History of hard disk drives

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Main article: Hard disk drive

In 1953, IBM recognized the immediate application for what it termed a "Random Access File" having high capacity and rapid random access at a relatively low cost.[1] After considering technologies such as wire matrices, rod arrays, drums, drum arrays, etc.,[1] the engineers at IBM's San Jose California laboratory invented the hard disk drive.[2] The disk drive created a new level in the computer data hierarchy, then termed Random Access Storage but today known as secondary storage, less expensive and slower than main memory (then typically drums) but faster and more expensive than tape drives.[3]

The commercial usage of hard disk drives began in 1956, with the shipment of an IBM 305 RAMAC system including IBM Model 350 disk storage.[4] US Patent 3,503,060 issued March 24, 1970, and arising from the IBM RAMAC program is generally considered to be the fundamental patent for disk drives.[5]

Each generation of disk drives replaced larger, more sensitive and more cumbersome devices. The earliest drives were usable only in the protected environment of a data center. Later generations progressively reached factories, offices and homes, eventually reaching ubiquity.

Disk media diameter was initially 24-inches in diameter but over time it has been reduced to today's typically 95 or 65 millimetres (3.7 or 2.6 in). Drives with the larger 24-inch and 14-inch diameter media were typically mounted in standalone boxes (resembling washing machines) or large equipment rack enclosures. Individual drives often required high-current AC power due to the large motors required to spin the large disks. Drives with smaller media generally conformed to de facto standard form factors.

The capacity of hard drives has grown exponentially over time. When hard drives became available for personal computers, they offered 5-megabyte capacity. During the mid-1990s the typical hard disk drive for a PC had a capacity of about 1 gigabyte.[6] As of August 2016, desktop hard disk drives typically had a capacity of 1 to 4 terabytes, with the largest-capacity drives reaching 10 terabytes.


A partially disassembled IBM 350 (RAMAC)
Removable disk packs

The IBM 350 Disk File, invented by Reynold Johnson, was introduced in 1956 with the IBM 305 RAMAC computer. This drive had fifty 24-inch (0.6 m) platters, with a total capacity of five million 6-bit characters (3.75 megabytes).[7] A single head assembly having two heads was used for access to all the platters, yielding an average access time of just under 1 second.

The IBM 1301 Disk Storage Unit,[8] announced in 1961, introduced the usage of heads having self-acting air bearings (self-flying heads) with one head per each surface of the disks.

Also in 1961, Bryant Computer Products introduced its 4000 series disk drives. These massive units stood 52 inches (1.3 m) tall, 70 inches (1.8 m) wide, and had up to 26 platters, each 39 inches (0.99 m) in diameter, rotating at up to 1,200 rpm. Access times were from 50 to 205 milliseconds (ms). The drive's total capacity, depending on the number of platters installed, was up to 205,377,600 bytes (205 MB).[9][10]

The first disk drive to use removable media was the IBM 1311 drive. It was introduced in 1962 using the IBM 1316 disk pack to store two million characters. It was followed by the IBM 2311 (1964) 5 megabyte and IBM 2314 (1965) 29 megabyte disk pack HDDs.

Memorex in 1968 shipped the first HDD, the Memorex 630, plug compatible to an IBM model 2311 marking the beginning of independent competition (Plug Compatible Manufacturers or PCMs) for HDDs attached to IBM systems. It was followed in 1969 by the Memorex 660, an IBM 2314 compatible, which was OEM'ed to DEC and resold as the RP02.

In 1973, IBM introduced the IBM 3340 "Winchester" disk drive, the first significant commercial use of low mass and low load heads with lubricated platters. This technology and its derivatives remained the standard through 2011. Project head Kenneth Haughton named it after the Winchester 30-30 rifle because it was planned to have two 30 MB spindles; however, the actual product shipped with two spindles for data modules of either 35 MB or 70 MB.[11] The name 'Winchester' and some derivatives are still common in some non-English speaking countries to generally refer to any hard disks (e.g. Hungary, Russia).

Also in 1973, Control Data Corporation introduced the first of its series of SMD disk drives using conventional disk pack technology. The SMD family became the predominant disk drive in the minicomputer market into the 1980s.

Smaller diameter media came into usage during the 1970s and by the end of the decade standard form factors had been established for drives using nominally 8-inch media (e.g., Shugart SA1000) and nominally 5.25-inch media (e.g., Seagate ST-506).

During the 1970s, captive production, dominated by IBM's production for its own use, remained the largest revenue channel for HDDs, though the relative importance of the OEM channel grew. Led by Control Data, Diablo Systems, CalComp and Memorex, the OEM segment reached $631 million in 1979, but still well below the $2.8 billion associated with captive production.[12]

1980s, the transition to the PC era[edit]

The 1980s saw the minicomputer age plateau as PCs were introduced. Manufacturers such as DEC and Hewlett-Packard continued to manufacture minicomputer compatible hard drive systems as industry demanded higher storage. Hewlett-Packard introduced the HP 7935 as one such drive. But it was clear that smaller winchester storage systems were eclipsing large platter hard drives.[citation needed]

Seagate 20 MB HDD and Western Digital Controller for PC

Hard disk drives for personal computers (PCs) were initially a rare and very expensive optional feature; however by the late '80s, hard disk drives were standard on all but the cheapest PC.

Most hard disk drives in the early 1980s were sold to PC end users by systems integrators such as the Corvus Disk System or the systems manufacturer such as the Apple ProFile. The IBM PC XT in 1983, included an internal standard 10MB hard disk drive, and soon thereafter internal hard disk drives proliferated on personal computers.

HDDs continued to get smaller with the introduction of the 3.5-inch form factor in the middle of the decade Rodime 1983 and the 2.5-inch form factor PrairieTek 1988.

Industry participation peaked with about 75 active manufacturers in 1985 and then declined thereafter even though volume continued to climb: by 1989 reaching 22 million units and $23 billion in revenue.[13]


Even though there were a number of new entrants, industry participants continued to decline in total to 15 in 1999. Unit volume and industry revenue monotonically increased during the 1990s to 174 million units and $26 billion.[14]

The industry production consolidated around the 3.5-inch and 2.5 inch form factors; the larger form factors dying off while several smaller form factors were offered but achieved limited success, e.g. HP 1.3-inch Kittyhawk, IBM 1-inch Microdrive, etc..

This century[edit]

Industry participants declined to 6 in 2009 and 3 in 2013

In 2001 the HDD industry experienced its first ever decline in units and revenue. Unit production peaked about 2010 and has been in a slow decline since then[15]


  • 1956 – IBM 350, first commercial disk drive, 5 million characters (6-bit), equivalent to 3.75 megabytes.
  • 1961 – IBM 1301 Disk Storage Unit introduced with one head per surface and aerodynamic flying heads, 28 million characters (6-bit) per module.
  • 1961 – Bryant Computer Products division of Ex-Cell-O, 1 meter platters, 1200 RPM, up to 205MB.
  • 1962 – IBM 1311 introduced removable disk packs containing 6 disks, storing 2 million characters per pack
  • 1964 – IBM 2311 with 7.25 megabytes per disk pack
  • 1964 – IBM 2310 removable cartridge disk drive with 1.02 MB on one disk
  • 1965 – IBM 2314 with 11 disks and 29 MB per disk pack
  • 1968 – Memorex is first to ship an IBM-plug-compatible disk drive
  • 1970 – IBM 3330 Merlin, introduced error correction, 100 MB per disk pack
  • 1973 – IBM 3340 Winchester introduced removable sealed disk packs that included head and arm assembly, 35 or 70 MB per pack
  • 1973 – CDC SMD announced and shipped, 40 MB disk pack
  • 1976 – 1976 IBM 3350 "Madrid" – 317.5 megabytes, eight 14" disks, re-introduction of disk drive with fixed disk media
  • 1979 – IBM 3370 introduced thin film heads, 571 MB, non-removable
  • 1979 – 1979 IBM 62PC "Piccolo" – 64.5 megabytes, six 8" disks, first 8-inch HDD
  • 1980 – The IBM 3380 was the world's first gigabyte-capacity disk drive. Two 1.26 GB, head disk assemblies (essentially two HDDs) were packaged in a cabinet the size of a refrigerator,[16] weighed 249 kg, and had a price tag of 40,000 USD which is 116,268 USD in present-day terms.[17]
  • 1980 – ST-506 first 514 inch drive released with capacity of 5 megabytes, cost $1500 USD
  • 1982 – HP 7935 404 megabyte, 7 platter hard drive for minicomputers, HP-IB bus, $27,000
  • 1983 – RO351/RO352 first 312 inch drive released with capacity of 10 megabytes[18]
  • 1986 – Standardization of SCSI
  • 1988 – PrairieTek 220 – 20 megabytes, two 2.5" disks, first 2.5 inch HDD
  • 1989 – Jimmy Zhu and H. Neal Bertram from UCSD proposed exchange decoupled granular microstructure for thin film disk storage media, still used today.
  • 1990 – 1990 IBM 0681 "Redwing" – 857 megabytes, twelve 5.25" disks. First HDD with PRML Technology (Digital Read Channel with 'partial response maximum likelihood' algorithm).
  • 1991 – IBM 0663 "Corsair" – 1,004 megabytes, eight 3.5" disks; first HDD using magnetoresistive heads
  • 1991 – Integral Peripherals 1820 "Mustang" – 21.4 megabytes, one 1.8" disk, first 1.8-inch HDD[19]
  • 1992 – HP Kittyhawk – 20MB, first 1.3-inch hard-disk drive
  • 1993 – IBM 3390 model 9, the last Single Large Expensive Disk drive announced by IBM
  • 1994 – IBM introduces Laser Textured Landing Zones (LZT)
  • 1997 – IBM Deskstar 16GP "Titan" – 16,800 megabytes, five 3.5" disks; first (Giant Magnetoresistance) heads
  • 1997 – Seagate introduces the first hard drive with fluid bearings[20]
  • 1998 – UltraDMA/33 and ATAPI standardized
  • 1999 – IBM releases the Microdrive in 170 MB and 340 MB capacities
  • 2002 – 137 GB addressing space barrier broken
  • 2003 – Serial ATA introduced
  • 2003 – IBM sells disk drive division to Hitachi
  • 2004 – MK2001MTN first 0.85-inch drive released by Toshiba with capacity of 2 gigabytes[19]
  • 2005 – First 500 GB hard drive shipping (Hitachi GST)
  • 2005 – Serial ATA 3 Gbit/s standardized
  • 2005 – Seagate introduces Tunnel MagnetoResistive Read Sensor (TMR) and Thermal Spacing Control
  • 2005 – Introduction of faster SAS (Serial Attached SCSI)
  • 2005 – First perpendicular magnetic recording (PMR) HDD shipped: Toshiba 1.8-inch 40/80 GB[21]
  • 2006 – First 750 GB hard drive (Seagate)
  • 2006 – First 200 GB 2.5" hard drive utilizing perpendicular recording (Toshiba)
  • 2006 – Fujitsu develops heat-assisted magnetic recording (HAMR) that could one day achieve one terabit per square inch densities[22]
  • 2007 – First 1 terabyte[23] hard drive[24] (Hitachi GST)
  • 2008 – First 1.5 terabyte[23] hard drive[25] (Seagate)
  • 2009 – First 2.0 terabyte hard drive[26] (Western Digital)
  • 2010 – First 3.0 terabyte hard drive[27][28] (Seagate, Western Digital)
  • 2010 – First hard drive manufactured by using the Advanced Format of 4,096 bytes a block ("4K") instead of 512 bytes a block[29]
  • 2011 – First 4.0 terabyte hard drive[30] (Seagate)
  • 2011 – Floods hit many hard drive factories. Predictions of a worldwide shortage of hard disk drives cause prices to double.[31][32][33]
  • 2012 – Western Digital announces the first 2.5-inch, 5 mm thick drive, and the first 2.5-inch, 7 mm thick drive with two platters[34] (Western Digital)
  • 2012 – HGST announces helium-filled hard disk drives, promising cooler operation and the ability to increase the maximum number of platters from five to seven in the 3.5" form factor[35] (Hitachi GST)
  • 2012 – TDK demonstrates 2 TB on a single 3.5-inch platter[36]
  • 2012 – Toshiba re-enters the 3.5" desktop hard disk drive market with capacities up to 3 TB.[37] This is made possible by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission demanding that Western Digital and Hitachi GST give assets and intellectual property rights to Toshiba.[38] Prior to this, Toshiba had only manufactured 2.5" laptop HDDs for many years.
  • 2013 – Seagate announces that it will ship hard disk drives with capacities up to 5 TB using shingled magnetic recording (SMR), a method where tracks are written to partially overlap each other. The read head, being smaller, can still read the overlapped tracks.[39]
  • 2013 – HGST announces a helium-filled 6 TB hard disk drive for enterprise applications[40]
  • 2013 – Western Digital demonstrates heat assisted magnetic recording (HAMR) technology[41][42][43][44]
  • 2014 – Seagate introduces 6 TB hard drives that do not use helium, in turn increasing their power consumption and lowering their overall cost[45]
  • 2014 – Seagate ships world's first 8 TB hard drives[46]
  • 2015 - In June HGST ships Ultrastar Archive Ha10 SMR HDD, the world's first 10TB HDD[47] followed in December by a conventional PMR HDD[48]

Manufacturing history[edit]

A Western Digital 3.5 inch 250 GB SATA HDD; this specific model features both SATA and Molex power inputs
Seagate hard disk drives being manufactured in a factory in Wuxi, China
See also List of defunct hard disk manufacturers
Diagram of HDD manufacturer consolidation

As of December 2011, virtually all of the world's HDDs were manufactured by three large companies: Seagate,[49] Western Digital, and Toshiba. Hitachi's hard disc manufacturing division (HGST) was acquired by Western Digital in 2012.[50]

The market has continued to consolidate since the 1980s as dozens of manufacturers exited or were acquired. The first notable casualty in the PC era was Computer Memories Inc. or CMI; after an incident with faulty 20MB AT disks in 1985,[51] CMI's reputation never recovered, and they exited the HDD business in 1987. Another notable failure was MiniScribe, which went bankrupt in 1990 after it was found that they had engaged in accounting fraud and inflated sales numbers for several years. Many other companies (like Kalok, Microscience, LaPine, Areal, Priam, and PrairieTek) also did not survive the shakeout, and had disappeared by 1993; Micropolis was able to hold on until 1997, and JTS, a relative latecomer, lasted only a few years and was gone by 1999, after attempting to manufacture in India. JTS originated a 3″ form factor for use in laptop computers. Quantum and Integral also invested in the 3″ form factor; but the form factor failed to catch on. Rodime was an important manufacturer during the 1980s, but stopped making disks in the early 1990s to concentrate on technology licensing; they hold a number of patents related to 3.5-inch form factor HDDs.

The following is the genealogy of the remaining participants:

In 2011, based on market research firm IDC, the biggest hard drive makers were Seagate Technology and Western Digital, but the largest national producer was China, followed by Thailand which makes about a quarter of the world's hard drives. The concentration of hard disk drive producers in only a few countries made the supply vulnerable to disruptions like the 2011 Thailand floods.[57]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Proposal – Random Access File," A. J. Critchlow, IBM RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT LABORATORY, San Jose, California, February 6, 1953
  2. ^ US 3503060  DIRECT ACCESS MAGNETIC DISC STORAGE DEVICE March 24, 1970, invented by Goddard & Lynott, assigned to IBM
  3. ^ The IBM 350 RAMAC Disk File, ASME Award, Feb 27, 1984.
  4. ^ Ramac History May2005
  5. ^ Disk Drive Patent
  6. ^ 1996 Disk Trend Report – Rigid Disk Drives, Figure 2 – Unit Shipment Summary
  7. ^ Jacob, Bruce; Ng, Spencer W.; Wang, David T. (2008). Memory systems: cache, DRAM, disk. Elsevier Inc. p. 602. ISBN 978-0-12-379751-3. 
  8. ^ IBM Archives: IBM 1301 disk storage unit
  9. ^ "Bryant Model 2 Series 4000 Disc Files" (PDF). Bryant Computer Products. 1965-06-15. Retrieved 2010-01-03. 
  10. ^ "Data Storage, Data Backup and Storage Virtualization: Walking Through 50 Years of Hard Disk Drive History (slide 6)". eWEEK.com. Retrieved 2010-01-03. 
  11. ^ IBM Archives: IBM 3340 direct access storage facility
  12. ^ Storage Industry Dynamics And Strategy
  13. ^ Disk/Trend Report - Rigid Disk Drives, October 1989
  14. ^ Gartner/Dataquest, Market Share and Forecast: Hard Disk Drives, Worldwide, 2001-2010, Chapter 2, (c) 2006
  15. ^ "469 million HDDs Shipped in 2015, 651 million HDDs in 2010 – AnandTech". Storage Newsletter. March 11, 2016. Retrieved March 11, 2016. 
  16. ^ "IBM Arrchives: IBM 3380 direct access storage device". IBM. Retrieved 2015-06-22. 
  17. ^ Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis Community Development Project. "Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–". Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Retrieved January 2, 2017. 
  18. ^ http://chmhdd.wetpaint.com/page/Rodime+RO352
  19. ^ a b Timeline: 50 Years of Hard Drives, Rex Farrance, PCWorld, Sep 13, 2006
  20. ^ http://www.seagate.com/ww/v/index.jsp?locale=en-US&name=Seagate_Forms_Strategic_Partnerships_to_Manufacture_Fluid_Dynamic_Bearing_Motors_for_Hard_Disc_Drives&vgnextoid=be0c0b64f9e3e010VgnVCM100000dd04090aRCRD
  21. ^ http://www.toshiba.co.jp/about/press/2004_12/pr1401.htm
  22. ^ http://www.tgdaily.com/content/view/30024/135/
  23. ^ a b http://www.conversioncenter.net/bits-and-bytes-conversion/from-terabyte-%28TB%29-to-tebibyte-%28TiB%29
  24. ^ Hitachi introduces 1-Terabyte Hard Drive
  25. ^ Seagate Powers Next Generation Of Computing With Three New Hard Drives, Including World's First 1.5-Terabyte Desktop PC And Half-Terabyte Notebook PC Hard Drives
  26. ^ WD launches industry's first 2 TB hard drives
  27. ^ The World's First 3TB HDD: Seagate GoFlex Desk 3TB Review
  28. ^ Western Digital, the first to ship an internal 3TB hard drive
  29. ^ Ward, Mark (2010-03-09). "Hard drive evolution could hit XP". BBC News. 
  30. ^ Anandtech – Seagate Ships World's First 4TB External HDD
  31. ^ Fuller, Thomas (6 November 2011). "Thailand Flooding Cripples Hard-Drive Suppliers". New York Times. Retrieved 12 November 2011. 
  32. ^ "Western Digital's flood-hit Thailand ops to hurt company". Reuters. 17 October 2011. Retrieved 29 October 2011. 
  33. ^ "Farming hard drives: how Backblaze weathered the Thailand drive crisis". 2012-10-09. 
  34. ^ IDF: Western Digital demonstrates 5mm thick hard disks
  35. ^ HGST Announces Radically New, Helium-Filled Hard Disk Drive Platform
  36. ^ TDK Finally crams 2TB on one 3.5-inch hard drive
  37. ^ Toshiba Expands Product Portfolio with 3.5-Inch Client Hard Disk Drives ...
  38. ^ FTC: Western Digital and Hitachi must give assets and IP rights to Toshiba (update: sale approved)
  39. ^ Seagate to Ship 5TB HDD in 2014 using Shingled Magnetic Recording
  40. ^ DailyTech – HGST Unveils Helium-Filled Enterprise HDDs
  41. ^ Extreme Tech – Seagate hits 1 terabit per square inch, 60TB hard drives on their way
  42. ^ Toms IT Pro – WD Demos Future HDD Storage Tech: 60TB Hard Drives
  43. ^ TECHSPOT – Western Digital hoping for 5x larger hard drives with HAMR
  44. ^ Pocket-Lint – This time next year you could be pre-ordering a 60TB HAMR hard drive
  45. ^ - Seagate Enterprise Capacity 3.5 HDD Datasheet
  46. ^ Seagate Ships World’s First 8TB Hard Drives
  47. ^ HGST Delivers World’s First 10TB Enterprise HDD for Active Archive Applications
  48. ^ Western Digital Corporation Is Now Shipping World’s First Helium-filled 10TB PMR HDD To Meet Exponential Growth In Data
  49. ^ a b Completes Acquisition of Samsung’s Hard Disk Drive Business
  50. ^ a b c Release: WD Completes Acquisition of Hitachi Global Storage Technologies
  51. ^ Apparently the CMI disks suffered from a higher soft-error rate than IBM's other suppliers (Seagate and MiniScribe) but the bugs in Microsoft's DOS Operating system may have turned these recoverable errors into hard failures. At some point, possibly MS-DOS 3.0, soft errors were reported as disk hard errors and a subsequent Microsoft patch turned soft errors into corrupted memory with unpredictable results ("crashes"). MS-DOS 3.3 apparently resolved this series of problems but by that time it was too late for CMI. See also, "IBM and CMI in Joint Effort to Rehab AT Hard-Disk Rejects", PC Week, v.2 n.11, p.1, March 19, 1985
  52. ^ [1] originally named Shugart Technology
  53. ^ "Company News; Tandon Sells Disk Drive Unit". The New York Times. 1988-03-09. Retrieved 2008-02-22. 
  54. ^ 1989 Disk/Trend Report: "Rigid Disk Drives", October 1989
  55. ^ "Fujitsu to Split Off HDD Business in Reorganization" (PDF). Retrieved 2009-06-02. 
  56. ^ "October 21, 2015-Western Digital Announces Acquisition Of SanDisk". Retrieved 2016-07-14. 
  57. ^ "Thailand flooding could affect PC supplies, prices". October 19, 2011. 

External links[edit]